University Tuition Fees: inequality or studying together?

by Fiona Ferbrache

This Thursday, Members of Parliament vote on university funding, which could see university fees rising considerably (Clark, 2010).  In connection with the “shake-up”, universities will be monitored to ensure that they are still meeting targets to attract applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.  For those institutions failing to meet such targets, there will be financial penalties (Vasagar, 2010).  This is how the universities might fair, but what about potential students?

It seems appropriate here to reflect on Dorling’s (2010) Commentary in the latest edition of Area.  He discusses social inequality in Britain, and the difficulty of communicating across the divide – broadly speaking, between poverty and wealth.  The reason I reference the article is because Dorling links the topic of university students and student loans to his discussion on debt.  He highlights that in 1990 only a quarter of university students took out loans, while in 2000, 75% of students did so.  According to Dorling, “debt was spreading up the social scales and escalating to amounts never before recorded” (p.404).  British society, it is argued, changed during the 1980s from being relatively cohesive to coming unstuck as a result of rising financial inequalities.  In this article, Dorling notes that “Students tend disproportionately to be the children of the rich, but many are poorer and cannot rely on their parents to help them out” (p.404).  This raises two questions; what might happen to inequality over the course of the next decade? And will universities struggle to attract applicants from poorer families?

Dorling, D. (2010) If lions could talk? Learning to live together in Britain.  Area Vol.42. 4 pp.403-405

Clark, L. (2010) University tuition fees could rise to £10k. thisismoney.co.uk. October 04 2010

Vasagar, J. (2010) Universities face £6,000 tuition fee cap over equal opportunities. Guardian.co.uk December 06, 2010

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